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Peter and the Orthodox: A Reprise

Two generations ago an Anglican apologist asked what he regarded as a rhetorical and important question. Eastern Orthodox apologists of more recent times echo this query.

The question was, “If the primacy, the supreme authority, of the pope is basic to Christianity, as Roman Catholics claim, why does the Bible not tell us so?”

An English Benedictine scholar responded with another rhetorical question: “If the primacy of St. Peter is so unimportant a fact—if it gave him no prerogatives, no duties, no successors—why on earth is it so extraordinarily prominent in Holy Writ?” [John Chapman, Studies on the Early Papacy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1928), 73.]

The person and actions of Peter are indeed extraordinarily prominent in Scripture. Throughout the Gospels and the first half of Acts, Peter is the dominant figure. His name appears 195 times. The next most frequently mentioned apostle is John, whose name appears 29 times. At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, Peter entered the scene as one of the former disciples of John the Baptist (John 1:40-42). When Jesus gave his commission to the earliest apostles, he singled out Peter (Luke 5:10).

Several lists of the apostles are given in the Gospels. Some appear to be random, but four are noteworthy: Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13. The first three specify Simon’s role as “Rock” by adding the name “Peter.” Only these four lists name all the apostles. With only slight differences among them they appear to be what Michael Winter calls “official catalogues,” each one of which lists Peter first. Matthew 10:2 begins, “first, Simon, who is called Peter.” Unless the word “first” was used to express some kind of preeminence in Peter, in that context the word is “a meaningless tautology.” [Michael M. Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Westpor,t Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1979), 3]

In several instances, a generic term for the apostles is the phrase “Simon and his companions” (see Mark 1:36). Peter was always the apostles’ spokesman. When Jesus asked his apostles to give their understanding of him, Peter spoke for them all (Matt. 16:13, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21). When he urged Jesus not to undergo the sufferings Jesus foresaw, Peter undoubtedly expressed the feelings of all the apostles. Jesus gave Peter a sharp rebuke that must have been aimed at all the apostles. When, at the conclusion of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse (John 6:25-59), he challenged his apostles to stay or leave, Peter stated their determination to remain with him.

Persistently First

Within the circle of apostles Peter articulated questions which must have been in the minds of the others. He asked what the duty of forgiveness involves (Matt. 18:21) and what are the rewards for those who have abandoned everything to follow Jesus. The question burning the minds of the apostles at the Last Supper (who would betray Jesus?) was put to Jesus by John at Peter’s request-or was it Peter’s command? (John 13:21-24). Outsiders also recognized Peter’s preeminence among the apostles. The collectors of the Temple tax inquired of Jesus through Peter (Matt. 17:24).

On three occasions Jesus allowed only three apostles to accompany him. On at least two of those occasions Peter filled the leading apostolic role. He spoke for the other apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:18). In the Garden of Gethsemane Peter alone attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest by drawing and brandishing his sword (John 18:10). Only Peter participated (even if briefly) in the working of one of Jesus’ miracles (Matt. 14:22-23, walking on the water).

Jesus delegated Peter and John to prepare for the paschal meal which we know as the Last Supper (Luke 22:8). At the end of it, Peter was the first to declare his loyalty to Jesus (Mark 14:19). Of all the apostles, only Peter and John followed our Lord to his mock trial.

When the angel appeared to Mary Magdalene and the others at the empty tomb, he commanded them, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter [note the singling out of Peter] that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7). Peter and John ran together to Jesus’ tomb after Mary Magdalene reported that Jesus’ body was not there. Their eagerness to confirm this astonishing fact must have been almost overwhelming. Being younger, John ran ahead of Peter. But note what John himself tells us. However great his eagerness to search the tomb, John waited at the entrance until Peter arrived and went in first. Only then did John himself enter (John 20:1-20).

The letters of Paul reflect sensitivity about not being one of the original twelve apostles. Still, in 1 Corinthians 15:5 Paul underlines the priority of Peter: the risen Lord appeared “[first] to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

John Chrysostom’s Attitude

It was Peter who summoned the other apostles to pray for the designation of a successor to Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-20). John Chrysostom (345?-407), one of the most influential of the Greek Fathers, wondered why Peter did not simply appoint a successor to Judas. After all, said Chrysostom, Peter had been “put in trust by Christ of the flock. . . . Why did he not ask Christ to give him someone in the room of Judas?” Then Chrysostom answers his own question. Apart from other considerations, this is most important: “Of Christ’s presence among them the greatest proof that could be given was this: As he had chosen, when he was among them, so did he now being absent.” [Quoted by Chapman, 86-87.]

Peter delivered the first Christian sermon, explaining the significance of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14-36). He issued the first call to repentance and faith and baptism (Acts 2:37-41). Through him the power of God worked the first post-Resurrection miracle (Acts 3:1-8). Only Peter brought back to life a dead person (Acts 9:36-42). When the Jewish authorities engaged in persecution, Peter always spoke for the Church.

We read in Acts 5:1-20 of Peter’s extraordinary, even startling, display of authority (the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven). He condemned the dishonesty of Ananias and even told Sapphira, Ananias’s wife, that she would immediately follow her husband in death. To Peter alone God revealed that the gospel of Jesus Christ was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Acts 10). Peter therefore pronounced for the Church the policy to be followed in this matter (Acts 15). (More about the Council of Jerusalem later.)

What Accounts for This?

These and still other instances of Peter’s leadership demand an explanation. They surely reflect the will of Jesus Christ for Peter’s role in the Church. The Gospels make it plain that Peter was exercising a primacy bestowed by Jesus himself.

When Simon was introduced to Jesus, Jesus told him, “You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter)” (John 1:42). We know from the Old Testament that God conferred a new name only on those persons to whom he was giving a special divine commission. Matthew 16:13-19 reports that at Caesarea Philippi Jesus kept his promise to Peter, giving him the name of “Rock” and designating him as foundation of the Church.

A previous article of mine (“Seeing Peter Through Eastern Eyes,” April 1996) focused on the Petrine material in Matthew 16 and on Eastern Orthodox interpretations of the promises to Peter. Eastern apologists interpret the “rock” passages as referring to the faith of Peter, not Peter himself, or as referring to all who share that faith, or to all the bishops. Many, perhaps most, modern Eastern apologists insist that the “church” which Christ founded on the “rock” is a local church (that of Jerusalem) rather the universal Church. Furthermore, they equate the power of the keys of the kingdom (given only to Peter) with the powers of binding and loosing given to all the apostles. The article summarized the Catholic answer to these arguments.

Before turning to other Scripture passages about the primacy of Peter, we need to make two more observations about Matthew 16 and about papal primacy in general. Biblical scholars generally agree that the key issue in the Gospels is the identity of Jesus. The definitive statement of who Jesus is was given by Peter at Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus declared that God had revealed this to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).

This basic Christian dogma was proclaimed by Peter with the grace of infallibility, as Jesus’ words to Peter indicate. What we normally call Peter’s profession of faith is in fact, as Vladimir Soloviev puts it, “the first dogmatic decree of St. Peter.” [Vladimir Soloviev, Russia and the Universal Church (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1948), 97.] (Later we will look at another fundamental dogma decreed by Peter as a result of God’s revelation to him.)

To Jew or Gentile?

Our second preliminary observation regards an Eastern argument against papal primacy of jurisdiction. If Peter had “possessed an all-encompassing jurisdiction, it would have been to Gentile and Jew alike,” we are told in The Myth of Papal Infallibility. But Peter’s mission was to the Jews, and Paul’s to the Gentiles. Therefore Peter could not have had universal jurisdiction. [The Myth of Papal Infallibility (no author given, Liberty, Tennessee: St. John of Kronstadt Press, 1990), 32.]

It is true that Paul stressed a division of apostolic labor between Peter and himself (Gal. 2:7-9). Yet at the Council of Jerusalem, Peter began his speech to the assembly (including Paul) with this reminder: “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7) (italics added). Acts 10 and 11 tell us how God demonstrated his choice of Peter. It was Peter to whom God revealed the inclusion of the Gentiles. It was Peter whom God first sent to evangelize the Gentiles, Peter the Rock, Peter the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Other passages (Luke 22, John 21) tell us more about the authority Jesus conferred on Peter, and reflect Peter’s authority in the early Church (Acts 10 and 15, Gal. 1 and 2).

The anonymous author of The Myth of Infallibility raises this objection to papal primacy. If Jesus had granted Peter “a more lofty place” than the others, would Jesus have told Peter [note that Jesus is telling Peter] that in the kingdom of God the twelve apostles would sit on twelve thrones “without distinction of honor”?[ Ibid., 24.] The author cites Matthew 19:28 and Mark 3:13-15; the latter citation is not on point. He could also have cited Luke 22:28-30. Jesus did promise places of honor to all the apostles.

But Jesus did not stop there, nor should we. Immediately after speaking of the role of the apostles in the kingdom, Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Both times the Greek word for “you” occurs in the plural, designating all the apostles. The next verse: “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” All four of these latter second-person pronouns are in the singular in the Greek. Peter alone is designated as the strengthener of the brethren (the apostles) and through them of the whole Church. To Peter is given the guiding role among the apostles and in the Church.

Peter Was Not the Only Faithless Apostle

Here is another Eastern approach to these verses in Luke. Satan did not get what he wanted, says René-François Guettée. The apostles will not lose their faith in presence of the temptations which they will be made to endure in the ignominious death of their Master. “Therefore there would be no need for the strengthening function of Peter which Catholics claim this passage reflects.” [René-François Guettée, The Papacy: Its Historic Origin and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches (New York: Minos Publishing, 1866), 42.]

The other apostles did not lose their faith? Why did all except John desert Jesus after his arrest? Why did they go into hiding? Why did they refuse to believe Mary Magdalene when she told them Jesus had been raised? Jesus said they lost their faith. When he appeared to the eleven at table, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen (Mark 16:14).” Guettée’s claim that Jesus took an unnecessary precaution (Luke 22:32) simply will not stand.

Commenting on Luke 22:31-32, John Chrysostom explains that “God allowed [Peter] to fall, because he meant to make him ruler of the whole world, that remembering his own fall, he might forgive those who should slip in the future” (italics added). [Quoted by Chapman, 85.] Other writings of Chrysostom make it clear that here he refers to the whole Christian world. This is only one of many acknowledgments of Petrine primacy by the outstanding Eastern Father of the fourth century.

A third key Petrine passage in the Gospels is John 21:15-19. Three times Jesus asked Peter for a profession of love for him; three times Peter made that profession; three times Jesus gave Peter a command: “feed my sheep,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep.”

A proper understanding of John 21:15-19 could begin with Ezekiel 34. Speaking through his prophet, God condemns his people’s shepherds (kings, priests, rulers, all in authority). God declares, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep” (Ezek. 34:14), a promise which is repeated a dozen and more times in the course of a few verses. Then comes a messianic passage: “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”

We see the fulfillment of this promise in Christ. Jesus twice tells us (John 10:11, 14) that he is “the good shepherd.” He promises (verse 16) “there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” In John 21 he carries out that promise by appointing Peter to be shepherd over the whole flock: “one flock, one shepherd.”

In John 21:15, 17, the word translated “feed” means just that. The Greek word behind our English term “tend” in verse 16, poimane, means to direct, to superintend, to rule, to govern. The same word is used in Matthew 2:6 (“a ruler who will govern my people Israel”) and in Revelation 2:27 and 19:15 (“he shall rule them with a rod of iron”). These latter two verses reflect Psalm 2:9, which in the Septuagint (Greek) version reads, “You shall rule them with a rod of iron.” “Tend my sheep” is a command from Jesus to Peter to exercise authority over Christ’s flock, under the authority of Christ.

Peter a Congregationalist?

Guettée and other Eastern writers attempt to restrict the scope of Peter’s shepherding to a local congregation or a local church. Guettée quotes Peter himself (“Tend the flock of God that is your charge” [1 Pet. 5:2]). Here in Peter’s own words, says Guettée, is proof that all those who were heads of different churches have the same function as Peter was given in John 21:1-5. But Guettée assumes that which he needs to prove. Similar language used in two different commands by two different persons in two different contexts does not demonstrate that the meaning of the two commands is identical.

Contrary to Guettée’s argument, Joachim Jeremias, noted Protestant biblical scholar, emphasizes the universal scope of the authority conferred on Peter by Jesus. Jeremias gives several examples of the metaphor of “shepherd” for a leader of a local congregation or for a bishop. Then he concludes, “only in John 21:15-17, which describes the appointment of Peter as a shepherd of the Risen Lord, does the whole Church seem to have been in view as the sphere of activity.”[ Joachim Jeremias, in Gerhard Friedrich, editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 498.]

Guettée claims that “St. Peter himself denies the primacy with which he has since been invested by Romish theologians, when he addressed himself to the pastors of the churches which he had founded as their colleague (1Pet. 1:1).” [Guettée, 50-51.] The verse itself says nothing about Peter’s being “colleague” to his addressees. Even if it had, it would not establish Guettée’s point. As a former Roman Catholic, Guettée must have known something about papal etiquette. He could hardly have been unaware that popes customarily address other members of the hierarchy as their fellow bishops.

Two-Thirds of a Syllogism Incorrect

With regard to this passage, Guettée g.asps at one final straw. If Jesus had granted superior power to Peter, says Guettée, Peter would have “rejoiced.” (Would anyone “rejoice” if he were given responsibilities which were overwhelming, humanly speaking?) But John 21:17 tells us Peter did not rejoice. In fact, he was “grieved.” Peter’s grief proves Jesus was not granting any special authority to him. Ibid., 46. Only the minor premise of this syllogism is correct. The rest is false. 

Look briefly at some of the comments John Chrysostom made on John 21. One should note that in the early centuries Chrysostom was the most popular of the Greek Fathers. He was also the most imitated. Sermons falsely attributed to him exceed in bulk all of the authentic writings of any other Greek Father. Chapman, 73. He is perhaps the most representative Eastern Catholic of the fourth century.

After quoting our Lord’s command to Peter to feed his sheep, Chrysostom asks, “Why does he pass over the others and speak of the sheep to Peter? He was the chosen one of the apostles, the mouth of the disciples, and the head of the choir; for this reason Paul went up to see him rather than the others. And also to show him that he must have confidence now, since his denial had been purged away, He entrusts him with the rule [prostasia] over the brethren.” Quoted by Chapman, 80-81.

Chrysostom’s comments directly engage a modern argument Eastern Orthodox and other apologists use in denying Petrine primacy. They insist that under varying circumstances any of the apostles could preside over the brethren, as James did at the Council of Jerusalem. Therefore, they conclude, what was said to Peter in John 21 was intended for all the apostles.

Here is how Chrysostom unconsciously anticipates and refutes that argument. Because Peter was given the rule [prostasia] over the brethren, some might wonder why he did not automatically become head of the church in Jerusalem. Says Chrysostom: “If anyone should say, ‘Why then was it James who received the See of Jerusalem?’ I should reply that he [Christ] made Peter the teacher not of that See, but of the world.” Ibid. 81. In other words, says Chrysostom, after Peter’s fall (his denial of Christ), Christ “brought him back to his former honor and entrusted him with the headship [epistasia] of the universal Church.” [Ibid., 80.]

Eisegesis, not Exegesis

A highly imaginative interpretation is given to the three major Petrine passages (in Matt. 16, Luke 22 and John 21) by a Russian Orthodox theologian. He sees in them a steady and precipitous decline in the importance of Peter’s role. In Matthew 16 we see Jesus installing Peter as head of the local church of Jerusalem. (For background of this view, see “How the East Sees the Church,” This Rock, October 1995, and “Seeing Peter Through Eastern Eyes,” This Rock, April 1996.)

The interpretation continues. Luke 22 reflects Peter’s demotion from his original position as head of the local church of Jerusalem. We can tell he has been demoted because the passage contains no reference to binding and loosing. The only function left to Peter now is “to give only exhortation, which he is supremely well qualified to do in virtue of his experience of sin and repentance.” In John 21 Peter’s career reaches its nadir. Now he has been demoted to being merely a pastor.[ Bishop Cassien, “St. Peter and the Church in the New Testament: The Problem of the Primacy,” Istina, 1955, 257-394; paraphrased by Winter, 24.] This explanation is polemical, not exegetical.

Protestants have written a great deal about scriptural material bearing on the basic issue which divides all Christians, the issue of authority and therefore of the papacy. In sharp contrast, Eastern Orthodox scholars have written very little. When they do turn to Scripture, they always focus on the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) which dealt with the question of whether Gentiles must observe the Jewish law in order to become Christians. Eastern writers find in Acts 15 the basis for conciliarity, the theory that the Church must be governed by councils, and therefore for their rejection of papal primacy.

Missing the Background

Eastern apologists who make much of Acts 15 largely ignore Acts 10, yet it remains the essential background for understanding Acts 15. A special revelation was given to Peter in Joppa, sending him to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. When Peter entered Cornelius’s house, Cornelius knelt to worship him. Peter immediately drew Cornelius to his feet, declaring “I too am a man” (Acts 10:26). [The author of The Myth of Papal Infallibility sees in this verse convincing evidence that Peter had no place of honor among the apostles ( 22). In other words, by not letting himself be worshiped as a god, Peter was declaring he did not have the primacy!]

While Peter was proclaiming Christ, Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and praising God. At this Peter realized they too should be received into the Church through baptism, and he commanded that it be done. Now he knew with certainty that it was part of God’s plan to bring Gentiles as well as Jews into Christ’s Church. This is the second dogmatic decree issued by the Rock, the earthly head of the Church. It was an infallible statement, infallible because given under the grace of God for the sake of his Church.

Acts 11 tells us that when Peter returned to Jerusalem, judaizing Christians criticized what he had done. Peter told them about the revelation which he had received, and what had happened. Nicolas Koulomzine interprets this to mean that Peter had to report his activities to the other apostles. From this he concludes that far from having authority over the apostles, Peter was in fact dependent on the other apostles and on the church in Jerusalem.[ Nicolas Koulomzine, “Peter’s Place in the Early Church” (J. Meyendorff, A. Schmemann, N. Afanassieff and N. Koulomzine, The Primacy of Peter [London: The Faith Press, 1963]), 118.]

Both Guettée and the author of The Myth of Papal Infallibility see in Acts 11 a humbling of Peter that rules out the possibility of any kind of primacy. Peter “had to endure a ‘dressing down.'” This shows that the others did not ascribe any authority to him. [Guettée, 50. See also Myth, 29.]

Take a closer look at Acts 11. It says nothing about Peter’s having “reported” to the other apostles. His conversation rather was with “the circumcision party” (verse 2). These Judeo-Christians (now called Judaizers) regarded basic provisions of the Jewish law as essential to living the Christian life. They only asked Peter why he had entered a Gentile home and eaten with them. Their question constitutes a “dressing down” only in the minds of those who wish to denigrate the authority of Peter.

The group who questioned Peter said nothing-presumably they knew nothing-about the momentous decision God had announced through Peter in Caesarea. They must have been astonished to learn from Peter (from Peter, of course) that their judaizing convictions had been thrown out of court. Did they protest what Peter had done? Did they demand a recount, so to speak? Did they demand a council to give them opportunity to defend their position?

No, Peter had spoken-Peter, keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Or rather, God had spoken, and again, through Peter. The issue was settled. “When they heard this [what Peter told them] they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'” (Acts 11:18).

In the Director’s Chair: James or Peter?

With these facts in mind, we can now look at Acts 15 and the council. How do Eastern apologists describe the role of Peter? First of all, why did the council assemble? “When a decision had to be made as to whether Gentile Christians were to be circumcised, Peter was not asked for his single-minded decision. Instead, a council of the apostles was convened.” [Myth, 31.] But the decision had already been made by God through Peter. This interpretation completely ignores Acts 10 and 11.

Why did Peter speak? Because he felt obliged to speak to the other apostles and “renounce publicly his opinion upon the necessity of circumcision and other Judaical ceremonies.” [Guettée, 41.] One must ask, why?

He had already renounced his opinion in Caesarea before a number of witnesses. This interpretation will not stand. Even if it were true, it would raise another question. Why was it so important for Peter, and Peter alone, to renounce an opinion which had been held by all the apostles? Why, indeed, unless he was the head of the apostles, their strengthener?

Peter did make an intervention, “but his action was not based on his present position in the Church.” It was based on his past experience. Peter had no authority except “to bear witness of past events.”[Koulomzine, 131.] But does not everyone have authority to bear that kind of witness? And to what past event did Peter bear witness? To the event in which God had spoken and acted through him to reject the Judaizers’ opinions.

All Eastern apologists consulted in this study agree that James presided at the Council, James summed up the proceedings, James “pronounced the final judgment.” [Ibid. The same assertion occurs in Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith (revised edition; Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press, 1992), 29. John Meyendorff in his Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 9, says that Peter and James “jointly directed the Jerusalem council.]” So much for Petrine primacy.

Emphatically Yours

But take a closer look at the role of James in the council. James’s words (verse 19) “my judgment is” (RSV) translate the Greek verb krino. In Acts 13:46; 16:15; 26:8, the verb is used to denote expression of an opinion. Michael Winter says it could better be translated by “in my opinion” or “as for me.” [Winter, 32. He quotes several Protestant scholars who concur.]Friedrich Buchsel makes the same point: krino as used in Acts 15:19 means “to think” in the sense of hold an opinion.[ Friedrich Buchsel, in Gerhard Kittel, editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 923.]

Another Protestant interpreter makes the same point more strongly. In the Greek, the “I” in “I judge” or “I think” is emphatic. “The emphatic ‘I’ must be interpreted in harmony with the rest of the New Testament and the Bible. It is absurd to believe that James at this moment gave his personal opinion as the final word, from which there could be no appeal. . . . The very emphasis on the ‘I’ shows that he was only expressing a personal conviction.” [G. Campbell Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles (Tarrytown, New York: Revell, 1924), 362-63.]

Attempts to exalt the role of James in order to minimize the role of Peter all go against the facts. The issue was whether Gentiles could become Christians without observance of the Jewish law. The issue already had been decided. God had revealed the answer to Peter. Peter acted on God’s initiative. Humanly speaking, Peter had already made the decision. (Rulings of early Church councils always reflected decisions already made by one or more of the popes.)

James’s Role

What did James do? He repeated what Peter had already said. For reasons of his own he added to the council’s instructions some judaizing elements (requirements about not eating meat sacrificed to idols, not consuming blood). What happened to Peter’s decision? It became the law of the Church. What happened to James’s additions? Scripture never mentions them again. The Church ignored them. In 1 Corinthians 8, written well after the council, Paul taught that whether one eats meat which has been sacrificed to idols is purely a prudential judgment.

Galatians 1 and 2 recount three contacts between Peter and Paul. In his efforts to detract from the primacy of Peter, Koulomzine declares that Paul was independent of the other apostles. [Koulomzine, 118.] Why, then, on his first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion did Paul spend two weeks with Peter alone? Furthermore, Galatians 2:2 tells us Paul made his second visit to Jerusalem because God sent him there (“I went up by revelation”). Why did he go? “I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” Paul went to check his teaching with “those who were of repute” (primarily Peter, as Galatians 1 indicates). If, as Koulomzine says, Paul was totally independent of the other apostles, why did he check his gospel with the others? Again, Paul tells us: “lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain” (verse 2).

In other words, Paul tells us that if he did not teach in harmony with the other apostles, his efforts would be in vain. In particular, he had to teach in harmony with the Rock. This is perhaps the earliest testimony to the Church’s magisterium, in which Peter plays the central role. From earliest times, the touchstone of orthodoxy was harmony with the teaching of Peter and his successors.

But Eastern opponents of Petrine primacy still have Galatians 2:11-14 as a cudgel. Here was the situation. In Antioch Peter had been freely associating with Gentile Christians. On the scene came some hard-nosed Judaizers, part of James’s crowd. Even though the Church was officially open to Gentiles, those Judaizers would have criticized Peter had they seen him in fellowship with the Gentile Christians. To avoid the Judaizers’ criticism, Peter began avoiding public contact with the Gentile Christians. (Meyendorff argues that James had “priority over Peter who is even forced to ‘fear’ his [James’s] representa tives.” [Meyendorff, 9.]) Paul rebuked Peter, and rightly so.

This rebuke, says the anonymous author of Myth, shows that Peter could not have been Paul’s superior in any respect. [Ibid., 29.] Guettée says Paul “believed so little in any authority of Peter, that he withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” In his reprimanding Peter, Paul “affirms that he is [Peter’s] equal.” [Guettée, 41, 50.]

Note first that the rebuke in itself does not deny Petrine authority. Catherine of Siena could rebuke the pope for his human failures without any thought of equating her ecclesial status with his. Moreover, we must ask what Paul actually did. He rebuked Peter for not adhering to the policy which God had established through Peter (Acts 10 again). The vehemence of Paul’s criticism underlines, rather than denies, Peter’s primacy: “You, of all people- you, the Rock!”

Let Timothy Be the Judge!

Incidentally, Paul himself deferred to the same judaizing prejudice, and in a much more drastic way (Acts 16:13). Timothy, a Christian, was son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Paul wanted to take Timothy with him on a missionary journey. So what did Paul do? He took Timothy “and circumcised him because of the Jews [that is, the Judaizers] that were in those places, for all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3) (italics added). Whose deferral to judaizing prejudice was greater? Peter’s or Paul’s? Let Timothy be the judge.

A parting shot from Guettée. He quotes 1 Corinthians 3:11: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This, he says, proves Peter could not be foundation of the Church or vicar of Jesus Christ. [Guettée, 32f.]

No man can lay a foundation other than Christ. No man can appoint a vicar for Jesus Christ. Of course. But Jesus Christ himself can. He not only can, he did. He did establish a foundation for his Church. He did appoint a vicar. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:18-19). All of this Jesus Christ gave to Peter and, as we shall see, to Peter’s successors.


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